By Beth Thomas/Southern Sentinel
Editor’s Note: This is the 14th in an 18-part series about Northeast Mississippi downtowns.
By Beth Thomas
RIPLEY – With several stylish boutiques and offices nestled cozily in turn-of-the century buildings, downtown Ripley manages to blend the old and the new together with contemporary flair.
But the town’s revamped and remodeled buildings are more than just a few shops downtown. An entire historic district including both businesses and homes is dedicated to preserving a special part of Ripley’s past for the future.
“We’re proud of our historic district, and we look forward to making it a real tourist attraction,” said Ripley Main Street Director Libbi Bennett. “The district exists to preserve the culture and history that is unique to Ripley, and I think we’re making a lot of progress in doing that.”
The district was established in 2003 by the Historic Preservation Commission, and in 2005, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings it encompasses were built prior to 1940.
“The homes in the historic district are beautiful,” Bennett said. “Most of them have been completely remodeled on the inside and restored on the outside. They’re like brand-new houses inside an old shell.”
One such home is Magnolia Place, built in 1879 by the grandfather of Mississippi author William Faulkner. “It’s kind of a trend right now for people to purchase these old, historic homes downtown and restore and sell them,” Bennett said.
Last fall, Ripley Main Street and the Historic Preservation Commission held a Renovation Open House to encourage visitors to invest in Ripley’s historic properties. “We believe in investing in our past to secure our future,” Bennett said. “And the only way we’re going to keep our past alive is by renovating and preserving it for the future. That’s why we’re encouraging people to take an appreciation in these old, downtown buildings.”
Located in the heart of the historic district, most of the downtown stores date back to the early 20th century or before, and Ripley’s newest business owner, Elise Cooper, said that was exactly what she was looking for when she set up her new clothing store, Stella Boutique, earlier this month.
“This building is the second oldest building on the square, and I just loved the look of the exposed brick on the inside,” Cooper said. “And the old rafters in here are beautiful. It really gives the store a vintage vibe, and that’s what I was going for. It’s perfect.”
The building, which was built in the early 1900s as a pharmacy, was remodeled by Bennett in 2004, and it served as her flower shop for a while.
“We and the Dixie-Net building were really the first old buildings downtown to be remodeled,” Bennett said. “I love old buildings, and seeing them restored and preserved is a wonderful thing. I think we really helped kick off the renovation bug downtown.”
And Ripley is seeing outer renovations, too. The old street signs were recently replaced with contemporary and stylish new ones, and new benches are being put up around town. “I’m really happy to see the downtown area so alive and growing, and placing these new amenities around is really making people excited about our progress,” Bennett said. “In return, it’s helping our commerce and we’re seeing a lot more visitors to our area.”
Ripley Main Street hosts an event downtown monthly, with the annual First Monday Music Festival taking place last weekend.
“This year’s festival was our biggest and best yet,” Bennett said. “And that means great things for Ripley. It’s so nice to see so many people excited about our little downtown.”
The Main Street Farmers Market will kick off on the Ripley square this weekend, and a summer concert series will hit the square in June.
“We try to keep things vibrant and colorful downtown,” Bennett said. “We mix the old culture and architecture with new and modern events like concerts, festivals and summer movie events. Things definitely stay interesting around here.”